By Aadya Sinha
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
The reactions to actress Preity Zinta’s FIR against her ex-boyfriend Ness have brought a number of pertinent questions to the purview. The legal angle and the social relevance of the case are widely discussed. Especially in the light of their impact on the social fabric of India, let’s explore a bit.
On the 13th of June, Zinta filed an FIR with the Mumbai Police, with regard to an incident that occurred on the 30th of May at the Wankhade Stadium during an IPL match between the Kings XI Punjab (co-owned by Zinta and Wadia) and Mumbai Indians.
It was initially suggested that it was a case of molestation, however the report has been filed under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code; IPC sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman). As a debate on the connotations of the non-bailable Section 354 and its application in this case ensues, criminal experts are divided in their opinion on what the ‘modesty of woman’ entails. A Supreme Court Judgement in 2007 clarified; “A woman’s modesty in its essence is her sex”, stating that the forced sexual act, short of penetration would be covered by the mentioned section. However, a High Court ruling on February 2014, convicted a coaching chain owner, Machindra Chate for slapping a student under Section 354. The judge stated that,”Even if you keep your hand on the shoulder of a woman, it is for the lady to comment upon the nature of the touch, whether it was friendly, brotherly or fatherly”. When the Supreme Court ruling was cited by the defence, the judges responded by referring to the infamous case of KPS Gill, who was convicted under Section 354 for ‘slapping the posterior of an inebriated Rupan Deol’ at a party. Using this precedent to conclude, “To say there was no intention [to outrage modesty] is not possible.”
Even as the police have just started to record witness statements and collect evidence, the court of social media has passed its judgement.
Journalist Tavleen Singh has largely led the charge against the FIR with her comments.”Shame on Preity Zinta for making molestation out of a tiff between ex-lovers, when little girls are raped and hanged for nothing.”
After facing a significant amount of flack, she seemingly clarified;
“Clarification: In a country with vile, daily crimes against women, it is wrong for privileged women to file trivial cases.”
However, Singh’s comments seem to have found supporters, many of whom question the delay in the filing of the report, Zinta’s profession and a ‘lack of cause’ in the report.
An important point to make, however would be that an actress or a ‘privileged woman’ Preity Zinta is, albeit alleged, a victim.
According to her own statement, Wadia’s actions made her feel ‘unsafe and ashamed as a woman’. The fact that this can happen to a woman who has the financial independence and opportunities many women lack, is extremely worrying. Reactions also suggest that the past relationship between the two parties involved, could be the cause of friction and the complaint could be malicious.
While, the proceedings in the court of law would be more equipped in clarifying the legitimacy of the complaint, such instant online judgements, are likely to hurt the sensitivities of any victim. Legally, Zinta is well within her rights to file a complaint. Despite Tavleen Singh’s comments, the law is objective in its protection of all individuals, privileged or not, feeling threatened or violated, in their subjective capacities. The same Rule of Law, so easily cited as being broken by the elite, promises protection in equal parts as punishment, to all its subjects, Zinta included. As far as resolving the matter personally goes, evidence suggests that by filing an oral complaint with the BCCI, Zinta did attempt to do the same, also explaining the delay in filing the FIR.
However, prima facie evaluations by individuals remain along with evaluations on a cursory glance. It remains in the hands of the respective court(s) to reach their informed judgement. While the possibility of the case being malicious in its nature is equal to that of it being legitimate, it is ethically wrong to jump to conclusion with the available evidence.
The social impact of the issue on the other hand, does bring to light existing debates. In relation to a recent ruling by a Delhi Court that ‘marital sexual assault doesn’t count as rape, the background of Zinta and Wadia’s past involvement could further reflect the Indian mindset to consent, and the institute of relationships and family. It further highlights the need for sensitisation, of the law enforcement and the judiciary, which remains male- dominated.
On the other hand, the reactions also demonstrate the impact of malicious and false FIR’s being filed by women. Such vindictive actions dent the integrity and sanctity of a woman standing up for herself in this society. Thus questioning what a genuine complaint is.
Even as the social scenario seems to improve, reported rape and sexual assault are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the problems women face. Much more alarming are the smaller problems that need to be addressed. Even as India progresses, women are more confined to gender roles than ever before. Additionally, the vulnerability that comes with being born with the two X chromosomes, seems to be larger than that any terminal illness.
In the light of such prevailing conditions, if proven true, an act by an educated man like Ness Wadia will be alarming plus the audacity of an individual to abuse a woman publicly. With the continuing crimes against women and their increasing brutality, the issue has, contrary to detractors’ beliefs, raised some very important questions about the safety of women in India.Aadya is your textbook bibliophile, as redundant as that statement sounds out loud. She finds solace in all that is and all that can be written. She is also utterly obsessed with politics, as a’pol’ing as it might get.